We try to stay upbeat here at BoomerCafé, so your first read of this lovely piece by Phyllis Edgerly Ring of Exeter, New Hampshire, might make you think we’ve lost our way. But no, not when you get to the end and read the real message behind this story of a long friendship between two baby boomers: every true gift has eternity in it.
My friend, Carol, gave me a wonderful surprise at about the last place I’d have expected it — her funeral.
She received the devastating news about her cancer the same day her employer told her that she would soon be out of a job.
Things happened even faster for Carol after that—especially fast for someone who, like most of us at this stage of life, was never looking to include life-threatening illness in her life experience. By early September, she’d been given three months to live. Her goal was to make it through all three of them, which, God willing, would be just enough time to see her first grandchild.
I made a trip to see Carol that week and brought a small CD player I’d picked up. She’d been feeling so terrible that even reading and watching TV were impossible, but she could still enjoy listening to music. However, her own CD player had broken.
There was so much I couldn’t do for her. This, at least, seemed like one small thing I could offer. Knowing how weak she was, I searched for a small machine that was lightweight and, hopefully, something she’d be able to move by herself.
The day I saw her, despite the fact that she was essentially drifting between worlds, she received my gift graciously.
But my heart was saddened by two things that were clear from the moment I watched the home-health nurse call for an ambulance to take her to the hospital: Carol was never going to use that CD player, and she wasn’t going to live to see her grandchild born.
A week later, I sat in a small Victorian church whose beautiful stained-glass windows flooded its pews with rosy light. Waiting for Carol’s funeral service to begin, I was thinking about her life, and all of the things that would never be, when I noticed that among the vases of cut flowers and the pretty candles that had been set out on a small table up front, there was something familiar.
Its display window glowed with the most amazing jewel shades of amethyst, emerald, and sapphire, shifting like the colors of a mood ring as it filled the church not with organ sounds, but the soothing voice of Bobby Darin, Carol’s all-time favorite. I smiled because I’d never even noticed this quirky-colors feature on the CD player when I bought it, yet this is exactly the kind of thing Carol herself would have chosen and liked. I just felt glad to know that my gift had found a sense of purpose somewhere in her life after all.
It wasn’t until I had a conversation with her daughter afterward, though, that I learned how wonderfully true this was.
“Oh,” she told me, “I was so happy when I found that CD player in her things. I’m going to put it in the nursery and then Mom and the baby and I will all be able to listen together.”
It seems that in the fast-forward months when she battled cancer, lost her job, and struggled financially, Carol, who would have dearly loved to buy gifts for her grandchild, never had the chance (or the means) to do so.
“But then, here was this gift that she was able to give to me and the baby after all,” her daughter said.
At their most meaningful, our efforts at gift-giving invite a bigger process into our lives, and into the life of the person we wish to honor. Thank you, Carol, for helping me to appreciate this in a way I will never forget.
This story first appeared in July 2014.